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Gujarat: A model of apathy, indifference

Constantly performs poorly on Human Development Indicators and shows huge regional and social imbalances

Gujarat: A model of apathy, indifference

Gujarat: A model of apathy, indifference

The collapse of the hanging bridge in Morbi has brought out the hollowness of the once-hyped Gujarat Model of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though the Prime Minister has long abandoned mentioning it, and the BJP too refrains from talking about it, the incident of Morbi reminded us of the model that had driven Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, to the top post. It may somehow seem unusual, but it is a reality that the Prime Minister does not refer to his slogan even once in a while. The Morbi incident reveals his inability to collect any strength to repeat the slogan.

The incident has been handled in an appalling manner, and it is typical of an insensitive governance model. The shoddiest part of it is the legal action taken by the police, which has shown utter helplessness in dealing with the culprits. It could not even mention the name of the company that was awarded the contract for repairing, maintaining, and operating the bridge.

The police have arrested middle- and lower-level employees who were handling operations at the site. All those who were legally accountable for implementing the terms of the contract have been left out. This is not at all difficult to understand why the police did not dare touch them.

The inaction of the Gujarat government points to a strong nexus of politicians, bureaucrats, and business-people. How political patronage works is also seen in the absence of any FIR against municipal officers who were involved in granting the contract to the company, that too, without inviting any tender. The municipality holds ultimate ownership of the bridge and has to oversee how it is operated.

The corruption involved in awarding the contract needs not to be substantiated, as the company does not have any experience of operating a hanging bridge, and it is a manufacturer of wall clocks and e-bikes. The helplessness shown in handling the case has eroded the legitimacy of the promise of the Prime Minister and the state government to conduct a rigorous and impartial investigation. No one would believe it.

The way relief operations were conducted has also drawn strong criticism. The visit of the Prime Minister also failed to console victims; it only gave the impression that he was indifferent. The renovation at the hospital on the eve of his visit killed its spontaneity and the compassion it was supposed to carry. It should be seen as the failure of those people who were managing the visit. Did they not know that in this age of social media it would not be possible to hide any behind the seen activity? In this case, a reputed channel exposed it.

However, the BJP leadership is hardly showing any humility in answering various questions. Can it afford it at a time when voting for the assembly elections is only one month away?

A fair analysis of the entire episode will only lead us to the conclusion that what Morbi has witnessed is an outcome of the economy, society, and culture that have emerged in so-called vibrant Gujarat. It has revealed the extent of marginalization among the poor and deprived. The state has constantly performed poorly on Human Development Indicators and shows huge regional and social imbalances. What we have seen in Morbi Hospital or during the Corona Pandemic only exhibits the condition of the public healthcare system in the state.

"Though Gujarat has witnessed a significant decline in poverty and ranks third in economic growth, development has been inequitable. Tribal, coastal, desert and hilly areas still have high poverty levels above the state average.

While universal primary education, gender equity in primary education, and access to safe drinking water have increased, the neonatal mortality and maternal mortality rates have been slow to improve. "The high prevalence of malnutrition, poor coverage of full immunization, the declining sex ratio, and child marriage continue to pose a challenge to improving human development outcomes for every child in Gujarat," says UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund).

The failure does not seem to be limited to the health sector, as stated above. The economic growth in Gujarat has been far from inclusive. It also has no capacity to provide a better civic system. The detailed analysis of relief works has exposed the apathy and indifference embedded in the governing structure. Disaster relief teams reached the spot late to ensure the survival of drowned people. Whatever help was available to victims was in the form of rescue efforts by untrained and unequipped young men from the locality. Many people were found running here and there in search of their missing family members even after the rescue teams had ceased their operations.

Can we delink governance from politics? The Morbi is an example. No one mentions the rot that is eating into the vitals of local politics. The 'Operation Lotus' carried out in Morbi has changed the political color of Morbi. The Congress had won the 2017 assembly elections, but the MLA later defected to the BJP. When the re-election was conducted, he was returned. The municipality had to undergo a similar transition, and the President along with 10 councillors crossed over from Congress to the BJP, resulting in the BJP controlling the civic body. Though It is difficult to link defection with corruption, anyone can well imagine the effect. The Congress had won 77 seats in the last elections, and it has now been left with only 61.

Another point is also worth noting. It is no secret that Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah jointly govern the state. The incapacity of the state machinery partly owes to it. Gujarat has to battle with both communalism and the centralisation of power.

(The author is a senior journalist. He has experience of working with leading newspapers and electronic media including Deccan Herald, Sunday Guardian, Navbharat Times and Dainik Bhaskar. He writes on politics, society, environment and economy)

Anil Sinha
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